Administration

White House downplays former adviser’s guilty plea

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The White House on Monday downplayed the new revelations that one of President Trump’s former foreign policy aides on his presidential campaign pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russians during the campaign.

The Justice Department announced on Monday that George Papadopoulos, who served on Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty for lying when confronted about those contacts during an interview with the FBI.

The indictment says Papadopoulos spoke with a foreign professor who told him the Russians had “dirt” on Trump’s opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, as well as with two other Russian nationals with ties to the government, in the hopes of orchestrating a meeting with campaign officials and Russian officials.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders downplayed the guilty plea, which was revealed on the same day that charges against two other high-ranking Trump campaign officials became public, when pressed on the issue during Monday’s White House briefing.

“It has nothing to do with the activities of the campaign, it has to do with his failure to tell the truth. That doesn’t have anything to do with the campaign or the campaign’s activities,” she said.

“This individual was the member of a volunteer counsel that met one time over the course of a year … He was not paid by the campaign. He was a volunteer on a counsel that met once.”

Sanders went on to argue that the campaign never took a meeting with Russians despite Papadopoulos’s work, which showed his station within the campaign.

“He reached out and nothing happened beyond that, which I think shows, one, his level of importance in the campaign, and shows what little role he had in coordinating anything officially for the campaign,” she said.

And she brushed aside Trump calling Papadopoulos an “excellent guy” in a meeting with The Washington Post’s editorial board by arguing Trump had only sought to be complementary to “people volunteering on behalf of the campaign.”

Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign’s foreign policy advisory team in the spring of 2016. Shortly after, he began speaking with people overseas about setting up a meeting between the Russians and the campaign.

His indictment makes clear that his superiors on the Trump campaign knew about his attempts to secure a meeting and approved of it.

One superior emailed him “great work” when Papadopoulos emailed about his early efforts, while another encouraged him to take an “off the record” meeting with Russian officials “if feasible,” according to emails cited in the indictment.

But his guilty plea is based on charges he lied to investigators about those contacts, not about the contacts themselves.

– This report was updated at 2:20 p.m.

Tags Hillary Clinton Russia investigations White House Press Secretary

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